Is Using the Wrong Kind of Gas Causing Blown Head Gaskets?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 11, 2016

Dear Car Talk:

Two years ago, we bought a low-mileage, 2010 PT Cruiser for our middle-aged daughter. The previous owner was the original, 50-something female owner, who took meticulous care of the car and had all her mechanical papers to prove it. It ran like a top. But in less than two years, we have paid to replace the water pump, fuel pump, radiator, starter and battery. And now it's sitting idle in our daughter's driveway with a "blown head gasket." We've come to find out that her daughter, our teenage granddaughter, had some of her high-school friends "soup it up," and that she will use only premium gas in it, despite the fact that it requires regular gas.

When this one "blew the head gasket," a family friend bought our granddaughter a slightly older, but nice, BMW. Again, she had her friends soup it up, and she uses only premium gas in it. It now sits beside the PT cruiser, idle, with a "blown head gasket." My question: Can using premium gas in a car that requires regular gas cause a blown head gasket? Is it possible that her friends, in souping up these cars, caused damage that resulted in a blown head gasket? Thank you.

- Maureen

Well, first of all, I have several buddies in the head-gasket-replacement business who are dying for this kid to move to their town. It sounds like she's great for business.

Premium gas had nothing to do with croaking these cars, Maureen. More likely, these kids are driving the blazes out of them and frying the engines.

I don't know what kind of "souping up" they did -- maybe they changed the valve timing or added a free-flow exhaust system or something. But the very fact that they're "souping them up" tells me that they're eager to drive the cars fast and hard. And that's the problem.

Is it possible to drive a car so hard that it overheats and blows a head gasket? It absolutely is. And circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that that's what your granddaughter and her friends did -- twice.

It doesn't make her an awful person, Maureen. Lots of kids do stupid things. My brother was in the Stupidity Hall of Fame as a teenager (first ballot) -- and that was before he ran our father's Chevy out of oil.

But your granddaughter clearly does not understand the relationship between driving a car hard and having that car stop running. Or the relationship between all that and money.

So while it's awfully nice of you and your friends to keep buying her cars, I'd stop doing that, and make your next vehicle donation to her a Schwinn.


Get the Car Talk Newsletter